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Annan Urges Resolution to Kenya Row


Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan has urged Kenya's two power-sharing leaders to meet and resolve a dispute that is threatening the stability of the nation's shaky government. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga's party has declared a political "crisis" and is boycotting the Cabinet.

An aide to Prime Minister Raila Odinga has reported that he spoke with President Mwai Kibaki over the phone on Wednesday about the current dispute and that the two are planning to meet face-to-face this coming Sunday. Mr. Odinga left on official business to Japan Sunday evening as the row was beginning to boil over.

The prime minister's party has called for the mediation of former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who chairs an African Union panel responsible for helping forge the power deal in early 2008 that created a spot in government for Mr. Odinga and ended weeks of political unrest.

The Annan-chaired African Union Panel of Eminent African Personalities issued a statement Thursday warning that progress on key reforms could be undermined if the two leaders do not soon resolve their differences.

Prime Minister Odinga has expressed confidence that the dispute will be resolved. President Kibaki said in a statement Thursday that he wanted "to assure Kenyans that there is no crisis."

This recent round of infighting within the unity government broke out into the open last week following the release of an independent audit revealing deep corruption within a 2008 subsidized maize scheme designed to close the country's food shortage. It was the second embarrassing corruption scandal to hit the government in just the past few months, the other involving the loss of millions of dollars which was supposed to fund free primary education for the nation's children.

Eight government officials have been suspended for suspected involvement in the scandals. On Sunday, Mr. Odinga announced that he was also suspending the agriculture minister and the education minister pending investigations into their role in the lost funds. One of the ministers was an ally of the president and the other was a leading critic of the PM within his own party.

Mr. Odinga called for the international mediation after President Kibaki annulled the two suspensions, saying the prime minister lacked the power to force ministers aside.

Peter Karanja, head of the National Council of Churches of Kenya and a frequent political commentator, dismissed the current squabble as mere selfish power grappling. "They are caught up in vested political competition that has nothing to do with fundamental national interests, but which is all tied to political expediency that is within their power to resolve. They should not waste international mediators' time housekeeping for them, which is something which is quite within their capacity and power." he said.

Activists-led protesters marched through Nairobi on Wednesday calling for anti-corruption action within government.

Mr. Odinga ran against incumbent President Mwai Kibaki in the December 2007 polls. After days of tension, President Kibaki was declared the winner amid cries that the election had been "stolen."

Armed groups of organized tribal militias slaughtered hundreds during weeks of instability before the two sides agreed to the coalition government. The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, has requested permission to begin a formal investigation into the killings, which left over a thousand dead and displaced some 300,000.

Critics say the unity administration has done a better job of rewarding political cronies and wasting state funds than it has at implementing the reform agenda that was part of the Annan-mediated deal.

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